You read the title of this post. Your mind might race to awkwardness, anxiety, and fear. For the rare few, they relish the opportunity to meet new people and start new conversations. Whatever you feel about small talk, we will engage people in these short chats today.
Why is small talk valuable? In the midst of the constant bombardment of self-interest and self-promotion, our conversations can invite people to be known. Sometimes the simplest way to love our neighbor means giving them the space to communicate.
How often do we hear the message, “Get to know me?” Then how refreshing is it when someone says to us, “How can I know you?”
Small talk communicates to a person their significance and value. Taking the time to listen to a person expresses far more than we could ever say to them. Here are five suggestions for small talk:
1. Start the conversation with “Where are you from?” as opposed to “What do you do?”
Many times our conversations die with the question, “What do you do?” A person could be in a career transition, or they could have fielded that question a thousand times. One of my mentors suggested this question because it begins the avenue of storytelling about their life.
Blogger Ashley Fidel said this about finding out what people do, “Through lots of trial and error; I have learned that asking this classic question rarely leads to meaningful or memorable conversations.” She provides other thought provoking conversation starters in her post 7 Conversation Starters Better Than “What Do You Do?”—and 7 That Are Even Worse.
2. Slow down.
My wife Robyn has taught me a lesson about small talk. She has the innate ability to focus on one conversation at a time. While she talks to others, you can tell she’s engaged in the present. To slow down means not rushing to the next great conversation. It means recognizing the moment you have with a person.
3. Use the person’s name.
Joyce E.A. Russell says this in her article The Career Coach: The Power of Using a Name, “A person’s name is the greatest connection to their identity and individuality.”
When we use someone’s name, we acknowledge them and their presence. Also, saying a person’s name will help us remember their name.
4. Find out the person’s expertise.
What topics cause you to light up in a conversation? Our conversations get enriched by talking about those areas in our lives that bring us joy; families, hobbies, vacation spots, sport’s teams, books, careers, etc. By giving a person to share their expertise, we can learn from them and experience their passion.
Think of this in terms of people writing a graduate level thesis. How often do we ask about the topic of people’s research? Most people do not get to engage this aspect outside their field. We can give people time to share what they invest their work.
5. Sense the rhythm of the conversation.
Has the person increased the speed of their words? Have they slowed down and engaged in the conversation? Taking the queues from the other person will help us know how long to remain the conversation. They might have a next appointment to attend. They might have a little free time. Before you end or continue the conversation, find their rhythm for the amount of time they have.
What suggestion do you have for small talking with others? Share them in the comment section below.